1994 Stanley Cup Champion and Rangers legend Marc Messier, ESPN’s leading NHL coverage hockey analyst, takes a shot at some Blueshirts Q&A ahead of the team’s Eastern Conference Finals series against two-time defending champion Lightning..
Q: What do you like most about this Rangers team?
A: For me, it’s very easy to admire the character of the team from training and down the line. They play as a team. I love youth I love [K’Andre] Miller, I think the upside to Miller is incredible. I love the guys who cut a lot of wood for the team this year. They got a really good balance. I love the grit they brought with them this year [Ryan] Reeves and [Barclay] Goodrow to confront some of the great talents they possess. …I don’t know, they are just a team that is easy to admire. They seem to really enjoy playing with and for each other. This is always an important thing for the team.
Q: What is their key to winning this series?
A: This is definitely an interesting puzzle. You’re talking about a very young team facing the Stanley Cup champions. They’ll be facing a team, obviously a goalkeeper, that they haven’t seen in these playoffs, so it’s going to be a much different challenge for them in many ways. but I think Rangers have a goalkeeper that can match [Andrei] Vasilevskiy in many ways, so here’s the good news. And again, it’s not always about what you get but what you give up. I think they will have to be much better defensively for sure against their net. Tampa has some amazingly talented players who would benefit from this type of foul, more than the last two series. If they could do that, limit the number of shots – 40 shots in a game 6 is too many in a 6 like that, Shesterkin was able to hold them off. Specialized teams are becoming huge at this time of year.
Q: How big is the benefit of getting home ice?
A: I think it’s an advantage. Obviously we saw that in 1994, it was a big plus for us to play 7 at home. Obviously, if I get to Game 7, I’d rather play it at home, there’s no doubt about that. I don’t know if that will be the difference or not for whoever wins this series, but I love that they are at home.
Q: What will Madison Square Garden look like starting on Wednesday night, and how much can the Rangers feed on that?
A: There is no doubt that the fans energize the home team. But it’s more about that being familiar with everything that surrounds them leads to the game, the routine of the game day and all that. At this time of year that Rangers are involved, players will feel the intensity of this rink, and they should be able to use it to their advantage.
Q: What do you like most about Chris Kreider?
A: What we all see – size and strength, he’s a smart guy. He’s self-analyzing, he’s honest with himself, and he’s got a lot of experience now. And his willingness to get into the hockey areas that you have to reach in order to be effective.
Q: Alexis Lavrinier?
A: Love to compete. He obviously has a great skill set, but more than that, I love his competition. He competes on the ice, and is not afraid of the big moments, the qualifying was not too big for him. You keep talking about a player like that when you get the best draft.
Q: Artie Panarin?
A: He makes the people around him better. He has the ability to distribute the disc, and anyone who plays with him is a benefactor of it. He is a really smart hockey player. The greatest compliment you can give any player is that he makes the players around him better.
Q: Mika Zibanjad?
A: He has just grown up since he came to New York in every way. And he changed his playing style at playoff time, he’s more assertive all over the ice. He really turned out to be a man who goes to number one.
Q: Adam Fox?
A: He has the Gretzky factor, and he sees things that no one else does. He plays chess and everyone plays checkers. … anticipate him, the way he sees the ice and the skill to take advantage of it … handling the puck in tight spots, don’t panic… just a great hockey player.
Q: Ryan Lindgren?
competitor. Tough as it comes. He and Fox play well together. Just an incredible competitor with an understated skill set.
Q: Barclay Goudreau?
A: The leader… the DNA of the championship… the glue man… all the intangibles you need for his role on the team.
Q: What makes Igor Shesterkin so special?
A: He reads the play as anyone who has played this position reads. It is clear that his sports activity, the speed of his publication. But I guess what really sets him apart is his mental strength and his ability to read the play before it happens?
Q: Coach Gerard Gallant.
A: He tells it like it is, as a player you can appreciate it. There are no profiling words, there are not many words, you know exactly where you stand. Players respect that, and keep the game simple.
Q: Is it hard for you to believe that it’s been 28 years since Rangers won the Cup?
A: Unbelievable to be honest with you.
Q: What is your message to Rangers fans about this team and how far it can go?
A: No one expected them to be at this point. I don’t think anyone would expect them to be a challenge to [conference] nickname. As for the players themselves, I don’t think they are satisfied with where they are, they probably have more faith in themselves than anyone does, which is always a good sign. They’ll get another big education on what hockey is next round, and we’ll see how they handle it.
Q: What would you tell them if there was a players-only meeting?
A: I don’t know the players well enough to get there, and I don’t know their psychology. I don’t think I need to tell them anything, I think Galant is doing a good enough job (laughs).
Q: What mentality do they need now?
A: What they show all year round. Why change anything? They did everything they needed to do all year long – they won big games, they played as a team, they did it all. There is no reason to change now.
Q: Was Game 7 in 1994 against Vancouver the loudest noise you’ve ever heard about the park?
A: For me personally, it was the loudest.
Q: Do you get chills?
A: To this day.
Q: Tell those Rangers what it was like to hold the trophy in Madison Square Garden.
A: We do not have enough time for this call. …I couldn’t begin to tell you what that meant to me, and how I felt in the short amount of time now available to us.